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Spotlight On, Ann Stephens

Although Ann Stephens wrote stories and (bad) poetry in her twenties, she did not focus on writing an actual book until she was in her forties. The first novel she ever attempted was bought by Kensington Publishing after an editor read the first chapter as part of a contest. Her second book, Her Scottish Groom, will be released on March 1, 2011 and is available for pre-order now.

Ann is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Nebraska Writers’ Guild and the Nebraska Writers’ Workshop. She lives with her husband, her two beautiful daughters, two cats and a refugee gerbil.

To learn more about Ann, visit her online at:
http://www.annstephensromance.com
http://www.authorsbymoonlight.com

How long was your writing journey before you published with Kensington? Tell us about the ‘call’ and how did you feel that day?

In some ways I feel like the Dumb Luck Poster Child, in some ways it feels like it took over four decades to get published.  I started making up stories in grade school, but didn’t start writing them down until I was older. Since I would write in classes when I was bored, my attempts were not exactly encouraged, though. After putting it aside for several years as an adult, I resumed writing when I was joined my critique group.  Eventually I wanted to get some outside feedback, so I entered the first chapter of my first – uncompleted – manuscript in a contest that promised a written evaluation of every entry. It was my first serious attempt at a novel, so no way would it go anywhere, right? To my amazement it won the Historical Romance category. The final judge was Hilary Sares, who was still with Kensington at that time.

She told me she was going to call, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up until she actually offered me a contract. When she did call, in September 2008, my heart was pounding so hard it took everything I had to focus on what she was saying. Afterward, I had to sit down because I got a bit weepy.  Luckily my husband was there to pat my back and hand me tissues.  Then my youngest daughter congratulated me and asked if I could still take her shopping for a homecoming dress.

Is publishing everything you thought it would be?

Working with Kensington has been a wonderful experience.  As a very raw new author, there was a lot about the business of publishing I did not know, and my editor, Peter Senftleben, has never failed to answer my questions or offer useful suggestions if he thought I needed guidance. Hopefully it helps that I understand that I’m still a minnow in the publishing pond, although getting that contract quieted a lot of my insecurities.

Please tell us about your March release HER SCOTTISH GROOM.

HER SCOTTISH GROOM will be out March 1! It’s not the usual Highland warrior romance (although I love those) as it takes place in 1875, well after the power of the clans was broken.  By this time, although Scots still took justifiable pride in their nation, they were also citizens of the British Empire. Like the Countess in Downton Abbey, the heroine is from a wealthy American family. The hero, Kieran is educated, sophisticated and prefers women who appreciate the carnal arts and don’t demand a long-term relationship. When he is blackmailed into marrying Diantha, a dull mouse of a girl, he is furious.  He wants to marry her, leave her at his estate and forget about her.  Diantha has other plans. She is fed up with others dictating her every movement, and decides it’s time to carve a life of her own.  Kieran is drawn to the woman he discovers behind the quiet façade, but his family history has taught him that love is an illusion. Diantha’s neglected soul yearns to find peace with the emotionally damaged aristocrat she married, but winning his heart may be a lost cause.

Do you have plans to write in any other genre? What is the one genre you’d love to write but never taken the leap yet?

My favorite fiction genre after romance is science fiction/fantasy. C.J. Cherryh, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robin McKinley and Tolkien take up a lot of space on my bookshelves. I’m looking for an agent willing to represent both genres, or at least support a sci fi/fantasy romance down the road.  A contemporary romance would also be fun to try if the right characters present themselves.

Do you think the rise of ePublishing is affecting traditional publishing? Are you worried about the changes that seem to be coming pretty fast?

Absolutely.  ePublishing may not spell the demise of the traditional publishing houses, but I think their business paradigms will change as more and more people buy readers and download books. I wouldn’t use the word ‘worried’. People still want stories; they just use different media to enjoy them. I do have concerns. For example, piracy is a noxious aspect of ePublishing that robs writers of a huge chunk of royalty income, yet no one has found a way to prevent it. I also wonder if moderately priced books are going to disappear, which would be a shame. For one thing, I look at a computer screen all day and don’t want to use another screen for leisure reading. For another, I love to read in the bathtub, and suspect it would be a bad idea to use an e-reader for that.

What do you like to do on your spare time outside of writing? How do you stay inspired?

In real life, I’m sooo boring!  I cook, I read, I watch some TV – Big Bang Theory and White Collar are two favorites. I seldom missed Saving Grace – one of the best series ever! I also take ballet, which is wonderful. It charges my batteries, and gets me moving. Learning new combinations every week is a beneficial physical and mental challenge.

What is the most difficult part of your writing journey? What is the most exciting part?

It’s intimidating to sit down in front of the computer every day, knowing that what I write might be read – and judged – by total strangers. It’s harder to pick the most exciting part! There’s the period of infatuation when you’ve just met some great new characters and can visualize the book you’re going to write about them. There’s also the thrill of holding a book in your hands and thinking, ‘Wow, I wrote this! And it has words and pages and everything!’

What advice would you give writers who are in pursuit of traditional publishing?

First, make writing a priority. Put writing time on your calendar just like you do other important activities, then spend that time on your book whether you feel ‘inspired’ then or not. Second, don’t assume you know everything about the craft just because you’re an avid reader! Take classes or workshops if you can, or look for articles and books that deal with subjects like characterization, plotting, or creating conflict. If you’re on a budget, like me, the library and internet are invaluable resources. Third, find a reliable critique group or partner. A good critique praises the best parts of your polished writing, but will also tell you where it fails. (And there is always room for improvement.) Fourth, educate yourself about the publishing business. A lot of editors and agents blog and tweet, so you can easily find out what people are looking for and what they are NOT accepting. Conferences are huge for learning about the business.  Also many Romance Writers of America chapters offer classes about publishing as well as writing.

What has been the best type of promotion for you and what hasn’t made a difference in your marketing efforts?

Ummm, yeah…that ‘on a budget’ thing is a challenge for promotion.  With my first book, TO BE SEDUCED, I lacked both money and marketing knowledge. Luckily Kensington ran an ad for their new writers, as they are for HER SCOTTISH GROOM. Keeping that in mind, my own most successful efforts have been writing a weekly blog (AnnStephensRomance.com), using Facebook (Ann Stephens Author) and Twitter (@Ann_Stephens) to connect with readers.  I think we got around a 66% sell-through with all of those things combined. I’ve educated myself a bit more since then, so I’m using a press release, targeted mailings, and promo items this time around. I’ll have to let you know how they work out!

What personal goals have you made for yourself this year?

Do yoga three times a week, drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables. Like I said, I’m incredibly boring in real life.

Tell us one thing or habit that you have that no one knows!

I secretly wish I could be Eowyn of Rohan. One, she rides, fights and kicks Ringwraith butt. Two, she gets Faramir of Gondor. I’ve had a crush on him since I first read Lord of the Rings at age 14.

Any last words for our readers?

Thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed answering the questions.

What will we see from you in the future?

Probably more Victorian romances, although TO BE SEDUCED is set during the Restoration of England’s King Charles II. It’s a fascinating period that is worth revisiting. (And let’s not forget my secret wish to write a science fiction or fantasy romance.)